If it hadn’t been for the firecrackers, the underaged gambler at Parx Casino probably would have gotten away with sneaking in.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, at a public meeting Wednesday in Harrisburg, fined the Bucks County casino $12,500 for allowing an 18-year-old to slip by security guards who were busy administering COVID-19 protocols. He played six different slot machines and left.
In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal for people under 21 to enter a casino, much less to gamble.
According to a consent agreement with the casino that the gaming board approved Wednesday by a 6-1 vote, the teen’s behavior and identity were discovered only after he left the Bensalem casino Sept. 16, 2020, and began setting off firecrackers as he drove around the parking lot for about 10 minutes.
His antics drew the attention of casino security, which enlisted the Pennsylvania State Police to identify the driver of a gray Saturn. That’s when the casino learned the gambler was underaged and reported the incident to the gaming board.
The teen, who was not identified in the consent agreement, later pleaded guilty to summary violation of disorderly conduct and unlawfully entering a casino. Parx also banned him permanently from its properties.
The incident began when the 18-year-old was initially turned away at an outdoor dining area, the Beer Garden. Parx officials said he then skulked around the valet entrance and slipped in when two security officers turned their backs to check IDs and screen patrons’ temperatures.
“We would just like to point out that the individual surreptitiously entered the valet area, noticed the COVID screening protocols, waited for them to help do the temperature check and provide masks, and snuck in,” said Bryan Schroeder, chief compliance officer of the casino, which is owned by Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc.
Security cameras recorded the young man playing six slot machines in rapid succession. The longest he played a machine was for 3½ minutes. Then he met a man later identified as his grandfather. The 18-year-old departed the casino a little after noon, 47 minutes after he slipped through security.
The gaming board said the $12,500 penalty — a $10,000 fine plus $2,500 in administrative costs — was standard for a violation involving an underaged gambler. Commissioner Sean Logan thought the penalty was a “tad high” and voted against the agreement.
“Absent COVID, he probably wouldn’t have gained entrance,” Logan said at the public meeting Wednesday in Harrisburg.
Denise J. Smyler, the chairwoman of the gaming board, said she was concerned that anybody could evade the coronavirus safety checks and potentially pose a threat to patrons and employees. “Was there any corrective action taken with the security folks to make sure that this did not occur again in the future?” she asked.
Parx officials said the two security officers had been disciplined, and the security unit was put on alert to be more vigilant about patrons evading the screenings. Schroeder also noted that a state ban on smoking in casinos, put into place temporarily during the pandemic, contributed to congestion at security checkpoints because patrons were leaving and reentering the casino for smoke breaks.
And as for the high jinks in the parking lot?
“Did he win big or what was the firecrackers about?” Logan asked the casino representative.
“He was 18 years old, driving his car around, throwing them out the window,” Schroeder said. “That’s pretty much it.”